The Kingdom of Love

As you recall from our last post, Peter begins the dialogue in Matthew 18:21-35 with a question regarding how many times he is required to forgive his brother in the new kingdom, suggesting seven times would be quite generous.  Jesus answers that seventy times seven would be more appropriate basically saying there is no limit.  Jesus then launches into another, “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to…” parable and describes the scene.

A certain servant owed the king the equivalent of 150,000 years of wages.  The servant in question requested patience from the king and more time to repay.  The servant was essentially asking for some way to refinance the debt.  But the king, moved with compassion, set any idea of refinancing aside and, at what we can assume was a great expense to the king, completely forgave the tremendous debt.  Then servant #1 seeks out a fellow servant who owes him a small amount of money.  He physically attacks his fellow servant demanding immediate repayment of the paltry debt.  The total lack of compassion shown by servant #1 turns the king’s heart from compassion to anger and servant #1 is turned over to the bad guys.  Jesus summarizes the point of the story in verse 35, “So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

This parable is a window into how God expects citizens of His kingdom to treat each other.  We are servant #1 and we have a debt that is so large we have no hope of paying it back.  It is the debt of our sin.  At great expense to the king – in our case the invaluable death of His Son on a cross – we have been forgiven our enormous debt.  In response to God’s immense and undeserved forgiveness, we are to forgive our brothers.  Jesus answers Peter’s question with a dramatic story to make the point that we are to follow God’s example of unending love and forgiveness in how treat each other.  We are to go beyond just treating our neighbor as we would like to be treated, we are to love our neighbor in the way God loves us.

The kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven is now the kingdom of love.  Love is the aura of the kingdom of God.  It flows from God Himself, from God’s love for His children.  And it flows like a rushing stream through us to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34-35).

We often fail to notice the significance of the new in this commandment.  The commandment to love is a new aspect of the new kingdom.  It was not the aura of the old covenant (see our last post).  Love is the everything of the new covenant.  Jesus taught it in the gospels and the rest of the New Testament unwraps what love looks like in practice.  Paul, Peter, John, James, and the other New Testament writers elevate the supremacy of love over knowledge, giftedness, and even good works.

The kingdom of God has become the kingdom of love.  And we imitate God Himself when we are “…kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has also forgiven you.” (Eph 4:32).

Seventy Times Seven

Another kingdom parable involving debtors (Mt 18:21-35) begins with an interesting exchange between Peter and Jesus.  Peter and the disciples have been observing Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees regarding His “acceptance” of sinners.  They have been listening to His teaching about what life is like among the citizens of His kingdom.  They are also learning about a new commandment, “Love one another.” (Jn 13:34).  This is all very foreign to their Old Testament trained ears.

The Old Testament they grew up with did not carry the aura of love, acceptance, and forgiveness that Jesus taught.  They lived under the idea, clearly expounded in the Old Testament, that obedience to God’s laws brought blessing while disobedience brought a curse.  They believed God would reward the righteous and strike down sinners; not accept and forgive them.  Jesus’ first century followers understood the implied fairness of eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth.  They did not understand the “beautiful unfairness of grace” that Jesus ushered in with the new covenant.

But by the time we come to Matthew chapter 18, the message is starting to sink in to the apostle Peter.  “Then Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘Lord how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  Up to seven times?’ ” (Mt 18:21).  It is as if Peter is saying, “Ok, I think I am starting to get the message here.  You are saying, Jesus, that in your kingdom, life together is marked by love and forgiveness, not revenge.  I have grown up under this getting even mentality my whole life, even in my religious training, and you are saying to set the eye-for-an-eye aside in favor of forgiveness?  Well then let’s take this to the limit.  Are you suggesting I be so radical as to forgive my brother more then once?  How about something totally outside my normal thinking such as up to seven times?”

Peter expects that his seven times has way overestimated the amount of forgiveness needed, but as is often the case with our Lord, Jesus turns his question upside down and says Peter’s number is, in fact, way too low.  “Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Mt 18:22).  Jesus then continues, “For this reason the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a certain king who…” (Mt 18:23).  Jesus then answers Peter’s question with a powerful kingdom parable; the contents, interpretation, and application of which we will cover next time.

The Two Debtors

Jesus continues the theme of good news to the needy in the story of the two debtors.  The context for this parable is Jesus’ invitation to the home of Simon, the Pharisee, for a dinner party.  At the dinner, a woman known to be “immoral” came and anointed the feet of Jesus.  Jesus, aware of what the host and religious guests were thinking told this story, “ ‘A certain moneylender had two debtors:  one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both.  Which of them will therefore love him more?’  Simon, the host, answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged correctly.’ “ (Lk 7:41-44).

Jesus goes on to equate the woman with the large debtor.  She loves much because she has been forgiven much.  Jesus pictures sin as a debt, not just a character flaw or something unpleasant.  It is a debt that is real and that we have no hope of successfully repaying by our own righteousness.  If we are to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must recognize our need and come with the open hands of faith in Jesus Christ.  It is significant in this parable that after announcing to the woman, “Your sins have been forgiven” (Lk 7:48), Jesus adds, “Your faith has saved you.” (Lk 7:50).

Two words that repeatedly come up in these kingdom parables announcing good news to the needy are repentance and faith.  Jesus’ acceptance of “sinners” is not some universal salvation that only requires recognition of our need.  It also requires repentance and faith.  Jesus’ began His earthly ministry with this invitation, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:15).  Repent and believe.  Repentance and faith.

What do you think of when you hear the word repent?  Our English word “repent” is translated from the Greek word metanoia.  “Meta” means “change” such as in our English word metamorphosis; a complete change of form, structure, or substance.  “Noia” comes from the Greek root “nous”.  If you look up the word “nous” on dictionary.com, you will see it is a term in Greek philosophy for “mind” or “intellect”.  To repent literally means to “change your mind”.

Jesus is asking His hearers to change their mind and join His kingdom.  And the ticket to join is faith.  Jesus told Nicodemus, a Pharisee who surely met any outward qualifications for righteousness, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:3).  Jesus goes on in the rest of John’s gospel to explain that to be “born again” is to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, and have faith that His finished work on the cross, confirmed by His resurrection, paid the price for our sin.

How do the needy (or self righteous for that matter, or anyone in-between) enter the kingdom?  We enter the kingdom by repentance and faith.  “Your faith has saved you.”